Hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled Sunday after a fire caused a power outage at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, officials said.
The outage, first reported around 1:30 p.m. local time, wreaked havoc on a major US transit hub, leaving thousands of passengers stranded in dark terminals and marooned on the tarmac.
"Georgia Power, which is the facility responsible for the power here at the airport, along with airport officials, are on the scene. We're trying to determine how soon the power will be back on," Andrew Gobeil, the airport's deputy director of policy and communications, told BuzzFeed News Sunday afternoon.
Shortly after, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that it had "put in a ground stop for flights headed to Hartsfield-Jackson," meaning that flights to Atlanta were being held at their departure airports.
By the time power was fully restored, just before midnight, the outage had led to the cancellation of more than 1,000 flights to and from Atlanta.
After several hours of darkness, Georgia Power said it believed that "the issue may have involved a fire which caused extensive damage" to one of the utility's underground electrical facilities.
In a press conference Sunday night, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed apologized to the nearly 30,000 people affected by the massive power outage.
"We certainly understand that the outage has caused frustration and anger and we are doing everything that we can to get folks back home right away," he said.
Reed explained that the outage was caused by an electrical fire that erupted in one of the airport's substations, knocking out its main power source as well as its backup system. The strength of the blaze meant the tunnels beneath the airport were filled with flames and fumes, hindering Georgia Power's ability to repair the grid.
"Because of the intensity of the heat, it took approximately one and a half to two hours to make sure the fire was adequately contained," Reed said.
The cause of the fire is not yet known, Georgia Power said in a statement, adding that "no personnel or passengers were in danger at any time."
"Georgia Power has many redundant systems in place to ensure reliability for the Airport and its millions of travelers — power outages affecting the Airport are very rare," the statement said.
Hartsfield-Jackson, a Delta Airlines hub, is the busiest airport in the world, according to the Airports Council International, with more than 2,500 flights and an average of 275,000 passengers every day.
Delta said it had canceled approximately 900 mainline and Delta Connection flights Sunday and diverted 48 flights to other airports, and Southwest Airlines announced just before 5 p.m. Sunday that all of its flights in and out of the Atlanta airport were canceled for the rest of the day.
The outage cut power to the terminals, causing mass disruptions as people tried to figure out what was going on in the dark.
Ellen Carmichael was waiting to get off a plane after a Delta flight from Munich to Atlanta around 5 p.m. Sunday when the pilot told passengers it would be a long time before they were allowed deplane.
"We are experiencing a lot of cabin fever," Carmichael told BuzzFeed News, noting that the flight had been over 10 hours long. "There's very restless babies and anxious adults on board trying to figure out what's going on. I mean, no one here expects to make connections; no one here expects to go home."
It's "sort of unbelievable that the world's largest airport would not have a contingency plan for something like this," she added.
When the airport first issued alerts about the outage, many frustrated and impatient people had some ~feelings.~
Former US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx tweeted that the outage was a "total and abject failure ... there is no excuse for lack of workable redundant power source."
People shared photos of dark terminals.
And unmoving security lines.
Those apparently affected by the outage shared their experiences waiting for flights or being stuck on planes.
They said they had been without food for hours.
"I am about to ask the man in front of me how he feels about feminism," wrote one struggling passenger.
In response, the Atlanta Police Department and the Georgia Department of Public Safety sent extra officers to help with crowds and traffic.
The FAA also said that it was retaining normal staffing levels at the airport, and would be ready to get flights back up and running as soon as the power was restored.
The City of Atlanta opened up the Georgia International Convention Center to house stranded passengers, along with offering some free food from Chick-fil-A, allowing people to evacuate the airport and prevent overcrowding.
Even as power began to come back on in parts of the airport, however, some passengers, including Carmichael, were still waiting to deplane from flights that had landed hours earlier.
And some stranded travelers reported that officials were slow to relay information to people in the airport. CNN reporter Betsy Klein, who was stuck on a plane for nearly seven hours, tweeted that inside the terminals it was "totally unclear who, if anyone, was in charge."
The incident wasn't without its amusing moments, however. One Instagram user who witnessed the outage said airport staff could be seen sliding down escalator medians to help people.
By midnight, the power was back on, and officials were working to provide relief to travelers and bring back a semblance of normality to the airport.
Remy Smidt is a reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Remy Smidt at email@example.com.
Brianna Sacks is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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